Notre Dame Football: Ben Morrison on historic freshman year; Styles on the move to DB?
SOUTH BEND — In the half century of NCAA football freshman eligibility, just two Notre Dame defensive backs have opened their careers with a six-interception season: Luther Bradley (1973) and Ben Morrison (2022).
Coincidentally, both wore jersey No. 20.
While Bradley, from Muncie Northside High School, went on to become a consensus All-American, leading the 1977 Irish to the national championship and setting the current program mark for career interceptions (17), Morrison might be too good to stick around beyond 2024.
“I wouldn’t say there’s any hype or pressure,” Morrison said Tuesday after spring practice No. 12. “This is the position I’ve been blessed to be in. I just know I want to become the best DB I can be and player I can be. So, if I read too much into hype — I mean, you just can’t do that.”
On the field, there wasn’t much Morrison, a 6-foot, 185-pound cornerback from Mesa, Ariz., couldn’t do last season after moving into the starting lineup for Week 3 against California. His two-pick breakout against Clemson included the longest interception return for a touchdown in Notre Dame Stadium history, but Morrison isn’t interested in rehashing his greatest hits.
“Never be satisfied; there’s always more you can do,” he said. “Last year was scratching the surface for me. There are things I still don’t know what to do or how to do it in this game. It’s cool because in many eyes it’s almost as if I did a lot, but I feel there’s still a lot more I can do.”
Fully recovered from the jarring collision with South Carolina’s 252-pound tight end Nate Adkins that knocked both players out of the Gator Bowl, Morrison is trying to make the most of his first spring practice.
“Last year I was just trying to play my position and play the man in front of me,” said Morrison, who enrolled last June. “I’ve been able to understand the whole defense … and why I’m in the position I am. That’s been the biggest thing: trying to work on things that I didn’t do last year.”
Coming off a freshman All-America season, Morrison has taken early enrollee Christian Gray under his wing. Now recovering from arthroscopic surgery on his right knee, Gray is constantly peppering Morrison with technical questions.
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“Just that one little brother you always have,” Morrison said. “Christian, he’s a funny guy. He’s also a great player. That’s just awesome to have a guy like that. I see a lot of myself in him.”
Morrison’s learning curve was flattened last year by the generosity of upperclassmen Cam Hart and TaRiq Bracy. While Bracy is prepping for a shot at the NFL, Hart returned for a fifth season.
“Having Cam Hart come back has been just awesome,” Morrison said. “It’s cool being able to walk (Gray) through some things I had to go through last year. I didn’t enroll early, but it’s the same transition.
“When you get on campus, there’s going to be things that you don’t know what to do or understand. So just having that person to go to is awesome. It’s nice being that for Christian.”
Lorenzo Styles on defense: 'I'm a football player'
Wearing a white jersey and a look of contentment after his first full practice at cornerback, Lorenzo Styles said the plan is for him to play both ways in Saturday’s Blue-Gold Game.
“I’m a football player,” the junior wide receiver said. “If they want me to go catch some passes, I’ll go catch some passes and make some plays. If they want me to go lock some people down, I can go do that too. I feel pretty confident in both.”
Younger brother Alex “Sonny” Styles, a sophomore safety at Ohio State, seems to endorse the experiment along with their father, former Ohio State and NFL linebacker Lorenzo Styles.
“He and my dad are defensive minds, defensive guys,” Notre Dame’s Styles said. “I grew up in a defensive family. They love to see me on that side of the ball for sure.”
The ultimate decision remains his, Styles said, adding that the mentality on defense suits him.
“It’s a different mindset — more aggressive, a little more chaos,” he said. “On offense you have to be more calm and relaxed. At DB, you do as well, but I think I like to get in the action. Yeah, I like it a lot.”
Having enrolled in January 2021, Styles said he is about a year and a half — or three semesters — from completing work toward his degree.
“This is a great (academic) program,” he said. “That’s a big reason I came here.”
With the deadline for entering the spring transfer portal moved up to April 30, Styles was asked directly if that might be a consideration. He didn’t answer directly.
“I’m just working on my game every single day, trying to get better,” he said. “I just take it day by day, focus on what I need to do, the task at hand. That’s really it.”
Mike Mickens prepares Christian Gray, Micah Bell
Cornerbacks coach Mike Mickens, who recently added the title of defensive pass game coordinator, said Gray is holding up well after recent surgery.
“He’s going to attack it mentally,” Mickens said. “Just because he’s hurt doesn’t mean he can’t grow mentally. That’s what he’s doing. He’s doing extra meetings; he has to attack rehab. He had a setback, but he’ll come back stronger from it.”
Meanwhile, four-star signee and Houston-area track star Micah Bell has been in contact with Mickens in hopes of expediting his summer transition once he enrolls in June.
“We do some meetings over the phone,” Mickens said. “He understands that when he comes up, he has to be able to fit in, understand some of the defense already. He’s going to be fine. He’s going to hit the ground running — fast, I guess.”
Follow Notre Dame football writer Mike Berardino on Twitter @MikeBerardino.
Notre Dame Football Blue-Gold Game
- What: Annual Blue-Gold Game scrimmage to conclude spring practice
- When: Saturday, April 22 at 2 p.m. EDT
- Where: Notre Dame Stadium (77,622), South Bend, Ind.
- TV: Game will be streamed live on NBCUniversal’s Peacock Network
- Radio: WSBT (960 AM)
- Tickets: Available at UND.com/Buy Tickets or call 833-NDIRISH